With 7:04 left in the first quarter, junior forward Jillian Dunston corralled a rebound off an Indiana miss and promptly threw it across the court to freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick at the top of the 3-point line.
As an Indiana defender began to charge at Gondrezick, she launched the ball to a gliding Hallie Thome down the middle of the court for a smooth transition layup.
Just like the layup, the rest of Thome’s game followed suit, as she finished with 21 points, 10 boards and two blocks to help Michigan to a 78-74 win.
The sophomore center was the recipient of four more assists from Gondrezick, a connection that Thome has flourished from since Gondrezick was put in the starting lineup Dec. 28.
“That’s definitely something fun to play with,” Thome said. “We had Madison (Ristovski) last year so to have someone in that spot and take on her role is something special.”
Added Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico: “Kysre is a great passer. She does a tremendous job of finding Hallie, so we try to keep them on the same side sometimes.”
Thome’s success against the Hoosiers can also be attributed to her physicality. Thome muscled her way down low at will, tallying three and-1 buckets and notching her second-highest rebound total for the season, including two on the offensive end. Thome’s forcefulness was instrumental in coercing the Hoosiers into foul trouble.
“That’s what definitely separated us in the beginning,” Thome said. “We were able to get fouls on their key players and take them out of what they wanted to do.”
When Indiana finally adjusted by doubling Thome, her game changed entirely from scoring to passing out of the low block to the wings.
“We were able to get the ball in early, and they weren’t ready from the start," Thome said. “In the second half, they were doubling more in the post, so we were able to get the shots and knock them down.”
If Thome’s last two games didn’t already prove it, her performance against Indiana showed that her presence on the court makes the biggest difference for the Wolverines.
“She has great hands and such great touch,” Barnes Arico said. “Such a great finisher around the rim. When she touches it, good things are going to happen.”
While her double-double stands out, the most meaningful part of her stat line was her two fouls. The Hoosiers simply couldn’t match up with Thome, and she managed to stay in the game for 36 minutes to expose the mismatch.
In the Wolverines’ four losses this season, Thome has suffered from early foul trouble, a point of weakness that both Barnes Arico and Thome have previously acknowledged. With redshirt junior Abby Cole still out of commission, it is crucial that Thome maintains her recent run of play, as Michigan’s depth down low runs thin when she has to sit.
After giving up a nine-point lead last season in Bloomington and losing, 77-69, it is reassuring that the Wolverines were able to eke out a win at Crisler Center and pad their NCAA Tournament resume. What has become clear of late is how instrumental Thome will be in the effort to end Michigan’s three-year tourney drought.